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Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds

I talk often about the relationship between gender and comics. I have, on more than one occasion, mentioned that comic book companies are trying harder and harder to reacquire a female readership, wresting it back from the clutches of manga and putting American books in the hands of young females. But it is few and far between when I talk about the need for women to be in the industry, a place where they are horribly underrepresented.

Gail Simone has been running just above the radar within the comic book industry for the better part of a decade: a writer for websites about comics (including comicbookresources.com), Simone went on to become one of the best humorists writing in comics.

Collaborating with Lea Hernandez on Oni Press’ Killer Princesses, Simone went on to titles for Marvel including Deadpool and Agent X, making a name for herself as a writer that could handle both humor and action, so when she was tapped to take over writing duties on Birds of Prey, few people batted an eyelash. Having never read the title before I came into this review with no bias, having wanted to pick up the title long before this and happy finally to read it.

It’s light, but good.

I have only cursory feels on the characters within this book and they have all come from other writers and titles: I know Black Canary mostly from Green Arrow and JSA, Huntress from the Bat-books, and Oracle from the same. I like the characters, but I can’t honestly say that I knew them. I can say that Simone doesn’t really attempt to establish any new characterization for this ornithological trio; having come into the title fifty-five issues after the fact, Simone was already working from established continuity and story connections so she really didn’t need to.

What characterization we do see is light, but interesting. Simone establishes Oracle almost in a maternal way, as she is protective of her agents (mostly Canary) and at times questions her ability to send them into hostile situations. Played against that is the friendship that seems solidly established between her and Black Canary as Canary plays the part of child going against mother’s wishes in fighting the good fight of crime prevention. It’s an interesting and odd dynamic she sets up for the characters, but it seems to work. Less interesting is her take on the Huntress; where once stood a cold-hearted woman who took justice to extreme measures, now stands a woman that can easily shoot a crossbow bolt through someone’s leg and nuzzle a baby right after. It seems out of character for Huntress, but despite this Simone makes it believable when she highlights Oracle’s inability to “get a read” on Huntress’ personality.

Simone also does good things with the wit, humor, and overall structure of her plotting, especially with the villain Savant created as a foil to both Black Canary’s fighting ability and Oracle’s intellectual prowess, not to mention the first comic book antagonist I can remember that has dyslexia. Simone remembers that a major part of the enjoyment in reading this title is the way that physical action (the fighting, kicking, hair pulling stuff) is balanced with the intellectual. The reader enjoys watching Black Canary hand an overly muscled brute his dignity just as much as seeing Oracle’s planning and plotting come to fruition. Equal time is given to both and it’s enjoyable.

I am slightly disappointed in Simone’s humor, as it seems like she tends toward the sardonic and witty more often then straight-up, gut-busting belly laughs. I wasn’t expecting something as good as Barry Ween, but a little more than some Sex in the City, almost topical funniness. Yet another example of this being somewhat “light.”

The artwork from Ed Benes has me somewhat torn. On the one hand, I enjoy images of tall, leggy, breast-laden women as much as the next fanperson, and it can’t be said that Benes doesn’t have a passable grasp of emotive expression and the ability to frame action. On the other hand, this kind of artwork harkens an era in comics that saw the near demise of true artistry in penciling and panel work, and I dislike Benes choice in artistic styles. That said, he suffers from few of the problems that arose from that era (those perpetrated by the Leifelds and the Churchills): massively disproportionate anatomy, facial sameness, and a bevy other maligning factors. It’s just okay artwork with a few extra C-cups lying around.

Overall, Of Like Minds is a readable story but it feels like Simone had reigned herself in. Perhaps this is a result of the fact that she had yet to establish herself with the Birds of Prey readership and was playing it safe, writing a good story, but not a great one. This volume is just good enough to make the reader want, and expect more from later issues, and from what I’ve heard about the current BoP, it seems likely that Simone gets better as she grows more comfortable. I do recommend this volume, but I do so at the expectation that subsequent ones will be sufficiently better. For $14.95, it sometimes pays to be choosey.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds

Robert Sparling

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